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Volume 13, Issue 18 ~ May 5-11, 2005
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by by Gary Pendleton

Black Widow Spiders Like Strawberries, Too

I’ve been thinking about black widow spiders ever since I discovered a nest of them in my strawberry patch last summer. They seem to have a way of working on your psyche. This is especially true if one bites you. And now it’s about time to be looking in my strawberry patch again.

“You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be bitten by a black widow spider,” Bill McCauliffe asserts with confidence in his book Black Widow Spiders. No numbers back up his confidence.

I don’t happen to know anyone who has been struck by lightning (although I remember seeing on television a man who had been struck some seven times).

On the other hand, I know two people who have been bitten by black widows. In addition to the intensely unpleasant physical symptoms, bite victims experience anxiety and nightmares, so each has stories to tell.

What’s more, all the books and web sites say that black widows are common in 48 states. They inhabit narrow, protected places around houses, barns and sheds. They like woodpiles and gardens. They are pretty much everywhere.

In regard to the apparently omnipresent black widow, we are fortunate for two things: They are not aggressive, and they are small. When threatened, they typically retreat to a tight little spider hole to hide. When a black widow does bite, because of her small size, only a small dose of venom is released. This is a good thing because black widow venom is 15 times more poisonous than the venom of a prairie rattlesnake.

The widow venom contains four poisonous components, only one of which is toxic to humans. It acts by interfering with the transmission of nervous impulses.

It also brings on anxiety and restlessness, according to the University of Maryland Medical System website. My friends Jeff and Lisa, the bite victims, reported dreaming of spider-like humanoid creatures (spider men?) and web motifs. There was a dismal town with people strewn over a chain link fence and a man wearing a robe made from black pearls, which resemble the black widow.

Female spiders guarding eggs deliver most bites. The actual bite may or may not be painful. As the venom spreads throughout the body, the symptoms begin: muscle ache, nausea, severe cramping, headache, fever, swollen eyelids, restlessness and anxiety. The severity of symptoms depends on the size of the victim and the amount of venom delivered. Bite victims should seek treatment immediately.

Healthy adults usually recover within two to four days, though some symptoms may linger for months. Deaths from black widow bites are usually limited to children and the elderly.

Oh my, it seems that I got a little carried away. I certainly didn’t mean to cause alarm. Like all creatures, black widows have their place in nature. They help maintain a balance in the number of critters, some of whom we consider pests.

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